Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

In praise of the bateau (boat) neck!

I am so easily distracted these days. So many projects, so little time! My usual approach to life is to streamline my projects so that I have two to three (at the most) major projects ongoing at the same time. These days, however, I am finishing a publishing project, working on two books simultaneously (not so uncommon for me – I write both nonfiction and fiction and do like to have one of each going on to balance off against one another), and I have a number of design/sewing-related projects that are edging ever closer to the front of my mind. I have plans to move forward with my fall-winter wardrobe blueprint, yet I find myself with a few left-overs from the summer to complete.

Recently I seem to be stuck on tops with waist definition (as I discussed in my last post), and have finished another one in a woven rayon fabric. (I picked up a Simplicity pattern when we were on our summer road trip in upstate New York. Can’t get them any longer in Canada.)

 

 

I do love how it drapes, and I will pick up some silk twill this fall (I hope when we visit New York) to add to that unfinished design board, and perhaps make it again. But, what about that neckline? I’ll have to do something about that.

It’s something of a “bleh” neckline, n’est ce pas? It’s more than a crew neck, but not quite that true bateau neckline that is my favourite.

Two summers ago, I spent months perfecting my “perfect boat-neck” T-shirt pattern. (This was before anyone had even an inkling that Meghan Markle would choose this neckline for her wedding dress.) It wasn’t that the T-shirt was a challenge: the challenges was getting that boat neck to be precisely the right width and depth for my personal fit and style preferences. Why, oh why, do I seem to be wanting to make everything with a boat neck these days? I thought it might be useful (and fun) to have a look at the history of this oh-so-appealing design feature. Then I’ll tell you why getting the pattern just right is a matter of both mathematics and squinting. Anyway…

Boat neck. Bateau neck. Sabrina neck. Are they all the same? Well, it seems that there are a few differences. (Well, bateau is French for boat in case you’re a bit French-challenged!) But it all officially started back in 1958 in France when the now ubiquitous white and navy striped shirt became an official part of a French sailor’s uniform.

french sailors
French sailors back in the day…

Rumour has it that the stripes were supposed to make a man-overboard easier to see in the water. As time went on, the so-called French sailor shirt – or Breton shirt – became a wardrobe staple made even more famous by iconic American actress Jean Seberg who spent half her life in France, artist Pablo Picasso and the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

jean seberg
Jean Seberg does it right.

Not to mention Jackie O. and Coco herself. But it was all about the stripes in the early days. What about that neckline? (Jackie’s boat necks helped it to move along past the stripes.) 

 

 

If you examine the original design on the French sailors closely, you can see that the neckline was widened slightly. When you see an homage to the Breton shirt on Jean Seberg above, you can see the allure of the widened neckline exposing much more of the collarbone.

Then, of course, there is my personal muse, Audrey Hepburn. According to legend, Audrey didn’t love her neck or décolletage. So, many of her necklines were high and wide, exposing just that touch of collar-bone that is so sexy on almost every woman. However, when she was doing the film Sabrina, the boat neckline came up even slightly higher, thus creating a new kind of boat neck now and for all eternity to be called the Sabrina neckline. It isn’t clear whether Givenchy (who designed many if not most of Hepburn’s film wardrobes) or Edith Head (personally my favourite costume designer) who actually designed it since they both worked on the film. [The Sabrina neckline, higher and straighter than the others is on Audrey in the upper left photo below. On the lower right photo of Jackie, hers is almost a Sabrina.]

Jacki & Audrey

Anyway, stylish women have been picking it up ever since. *bats eyelashes*

I learned about drafting boat necks from the pattern-making course I took online from Suzy Furrer. What haunts me most about them ever since is trying to ensure that the back neckline is taken up just enough to ensure that the front of the neckline doesn’t gape. She has a rules she calls the “wide neckline adjustment rule.”

Inkedsuzy furer_LI
Original neckline at high neck point on the left. Newly drawn boat neck on right exposes the shoulder. As much as the designer chooses.

According to what I learned, if the front and back of the boat neck are the same measurement, the front will gape. And the truth is, I have noticed this on some of the ready-to-wear pieces I have picked up over the years. It’s usually a small bit of gaping, but gaping nonetheless. And if I am going to design and make my own pieces, they have to fit perfectly. So, I learn the rule.

Here is an example:

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When I altered the original neckline of this pattern I made (I didn’t like the shape of depth of the original), I decided that it would be better if it were 1/2″ wider on each side in the front (I also brought it up 2″ but that doesn’t affect the shoulder adjustment). So, after I made this change on the front neckline, of course I had to true up the shoulder seam by making the back neckline 1/2″ wider as well giving me a 2 1/2″ shoulder seam which I like with a boat neck. But, as  you can see in the photo below, I also shortened the length of the back neck by 1/8″ by lowering the high neck point.

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If I create a boat neck from my original sloper where the neckline is right at the high neck point, and I want my perfect boat neck which gives me that 2-2 1/2″ shoulder seam, I generally have to shorten the back by as much as 5/8″. In the case of the above example, the point I moved was already a distance from the high neck point (hope this makes sense!).

The point is that the farther out the neckline is from the high shoulder point, the shorter the back needs to be to prevent that gaping – up to about a maximum of 3/4″. Now, I always check these measurements on commercial patterns with boat necks, too.

 

 

[Two of the designs from the GG Collection basics from last year when I was perfecting my perfect boat neck!]

As I doodle toward my fall designs, I’m noting that this neckline keeps popping up there too. Good thing it works in many fabrics in all seasons. So, now I’m back to my design board. Talk soon!

The patterns…

 

 

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Posted in Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style

The cruise collection in action: The versatility of the LBCD (little black cocktail dress)

There is nothing quite like an evening at sea on a luxury cruise ship! The only down-side is making decisions about how many dresses to take when you’d really like to minimize the weight of your suitcase! So, when I began thinking about the evening portion of the Cruise Collection, it was clear to me that I’d be needing a versatile LBD – or LBCD in this specific case. Let me back up for a moment to talk about travel style.

I think it’s safe to say that in this twenty-first century, travel has become much more casual than it was in years gone by. Remember the days when people actually dressed up to board an airplane? When flying was a pleasure?

[CNN Travel has a great story Vintage air travel: Photos from golden age of flying at https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/vintage-airplane-photos-golden-jet-age/index.html. These photos are from there.]

Well, I think that most people would agree that, for the most part, things have changed. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Youtubers with all manner of advice on how to wear the next best thing to pajamas while schlepping a moisturizing mask on your face while flying just about anywhere. Can you imagine sitting beside that person as she removes various facial paraphernalia from the depths of her enormous tote bag, preps the gooey mess and slaps it on her face? But I digress… Let’s talk about cruise fashion for a moment.

Historically, cruise fashion has paralleled the increasing casualness of our day-to-day career and leisure wardrobes.

Whenever I look at pictures of the cruise wardrobes from the 1940’s to the 1960’s like the ones above, for example, I experience a kind of wistfulness that speaks of an appreciation for what has gone by (and what I missed because of the era of my birth), and yet I don’t really wish for us to dress “the same” as they did back in the day.

Muse 2 Jackie O
Jackie O. was a particular muse for this collection. 

When I started this creative thought process for designing a little cruise collection, it was imbued by the sensibility of the 1960’s, and yet I never want to dress in a retro way that duplicates that era – only a style that is influenced by it.

One influence I did not want on this collection – or my wardrobe in general for that matter – was the current careless attitude that many cruisers seem to have when they post about cruise line dress codes online. It’s that “I’ll wear whatever a damn well please” attitude – and make no mistake what they “damn well want to wear” is not a cocktail dress. Different strokes for different folks, I say. The good news is that not all cruise lines are the same. There’s something for everyone.

For example, the dress code for Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the large, mainstream cruise lines is as follows:

Cruise Casual: The Freedom of Freestyle Cruising

Dress cruise casual anytime during the day, in the buffet and in most specialty restaurants. For women, it includes summer and casual dresses, skirts, regular or capri pants, shorts, jeans and tops. Khakis, jeans, shorts and casual shirts are fine for men. Swimwear is acceptable at the buffet and outdoor restaurant, but a shirt or a cover-up and footwear are required.

All Decked-out: Smart Casual

Dress smart casual in our more formal dining room or in our more upscale specialty restaurants. For women, it includes slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops. For men, it’s jeans or slacks with a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes. Kids 12 and under are welcome to wear nice shorts in all our restaurants. [Source: https://www.ncl.com/ca/en/freestyle-cruise/prepare-for-your-cruise/what-to-pack#whattobring]

Notice that “all decked out” to these cruisers includes jeans with nary a mention of a tie or cocktail dress.

Silversea Cruises, on the other hand, (one of our favourites and the line we have been on three times in the last 18 months) says this about their dress code:

Shipboard attire ranges from casual to formal. Casual wear is appropriate for daytime aboard ship or ashore and consists of standard sports outfits as worn at five-star resorts. Shoes should be flat or low heeled for deck activities. Evening attire falls into three categories: casual, informal and formal. On casual evenings, pants, blouses, skirts and casual dresses for ladies; open-neck shirts and slacks for gentlemen are appropriate. On informal evenings, ladies usually wear dresses or pantsuits; gentlemen wear jackets (tie optional). Appropriate formal evening wear for ladies is an evening gown or cocktail dress; gentlemen wear tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits. Tie is required.

On formal nights, guests may dine in La Terrazza and choose to dress informal; dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). This option also applies to Seishin and Stars on board Silver Spirit. Dining at The Grill is optional casual all nights. Following dinner, all guests are free to take advantage of any or all public spaces, however, jacket is required. Sailings of 9 days or less typically feature 1 formal night, while longer voyages usually have 2-3 formal nights. Details will be provided in your final cruise documents, but the chart below provides a basic guideline to assist in packing the proper attire. [Source: https://www.silversea.com/travel-informations/general-information.html]

Note the references to “five-star resorts”, dresses, jackets and ties. So, when it came to planning a collection, obviously a cocktail dress would be at the heart of the evening wear, since there are more informal evenings than any other type.

My plan was to create a Little Black Cocktail dress that I could style a variety of ways so that I could have a slightly different look on four different evenings without taking four dresses. I think I succeeded.

Here’s where it started…

Here is the dress styled only with a statement necklace for its first outing…

 

I then added a lace topper I already owned…

LBD 3

…and a drapey, bolero that I created within the collection…

 

What do you think? A win for this one?

Next up…the daytime attire…

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style, Stylish Travel

Cruise collection complete: Let the packing begin!

It’s Valentine’s Day and for so many people out there it seems like this is such an important day, although to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember anything special about Valentine’s Days gone by. We used to do something like go out for a lovely dinner, and that was nice, but when you get to a certain point you realize that every day is a day to celebrate love. So that’s what we do. And in so many recent years, we have found ourselves on vacation anyway – which is pretty special in itself. This year, as it happens, we are still a couple of sleeps away from sunshine, palm trees and a cruise ship. But my cruise collection is finished and I’ll be packing it up momentarily. So, here’s the wrap-up.

Since we last “spoke” I actually added a few more pieces – some hits, some misses.

I added a second skirt. It’s based on the original design sans pockets, with a side zipper and a front seam. I went looking for the fabric at King Textiles in the Toronto fabric district because I wanted something particular, and came home with what is supposedly rip-stop, but it has an oddly shiny interior which has design possibilities, but I fear it may stick to me. Never mind: I plan to take it and wear it in the 28-degree Celsius weather and I’ll report back.

I also wanted two more, cool tops. Based on the design of the little black dress that will be the basis for many a cocktail evening coming up, I created a princess-line top from the seersucker that is at the heart of this collection. It fits me well, and is comfortable, but there is something about it…

It has a bit of a funky, broad-front look about it despite my careful selection of the placement of the stripes. We’ll see.

I added a tank made from the patterned (you know I rarely wear patterns) textural material as I work on creating my perfect tank. This one isn’t exactly what I’m going for on a long-term basis – the pattern still needs work – but it’s going to be great on the cruise.

 

I also wanted to make a floaty tunic top from some Indian cotton I bought for the project last summer while we were in Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I designed a tunic with short sleeves, and know I will wear it, but it looks more like a bathing suit cover-up than a top that should be worn on the street. It is such a heavenly comfortable fabric, though. Beach walk here it comes.

I started this project back in September. September?! Wow, that’s a long time. I wanted to enjoy the whole process from concept, through design and then execution. And I have done that.

I started by researching a capsule versus a collection. So many people online seem to create, through either shopping ready-to-wear or making it themselves, what they are calling a capsule collection. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so I decided to design a collection.

I created a “mood board” for lack of a better term so that I could visualize where I was headed. It was a very creative exercise that I will probably repeat  seasonally. It forced me to really consider my personal aesthetic, which included colours, textures and eventually fabrics I loved.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

But for a cruise collection that will actually cruise, there is more to it than aesthetics – there is also functionality.

We will be spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we expect the daily temperatures to be around 28 C with a humidex of 31C or so. We do love San Juan. We’ve been there several times, but this is the longest stay for us. We stay in an area called the Condado, named for the miles-long beach it borders. It’s about 5 km from old San Juan in a lovely, upscale residential neighbourhood. We’re staying in a new hotel for us, but the area is familiar. Then we’ll board the Silver Spirit, a 604-passenger Silversea Cruises ship – a bit large for our taste, but Silversea provides a wonderful experience. This will be our fourth Silversea cruise. This one is doing a historical-cultural tour of Cuba and a few other islands, ending in Fort Lauderdale.

 

[Some images from our last visit to San Juan]

Silversea has interesting wardrobe expectations. We will have two formal nights on this one (I will wear a gown and my dear husband will take his tux – not so many opportunities to gear up for a formal occasion these days, so we have to get some mileage out of the wardrobe). Not everyone aboard will go long-dress-and-tuxedo, but they will be dressed up. Even on the informal nights, most will be in cocktail dresses, and I will be wearing the LBD from my collection. There are only three casual nights on this cruise where I’ll be attired in white jeans, beautiful tops and appropriate sandals. This is not a T-shirt and ball-cap kind of cruise. And there are generally no children so that’s great, too, at this point in our lives.

Anyway, the new cruise collection, in concert with my favourite ready-to-wear pieces, is about to get its work-out. There will be photos.

Stay warm!

Silver Spirit here we come!

[photo from http://www.silversea.com]

silver spirit

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

Cruise Collection Project: Creating an asymmetrical tunic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We don’t actually have any snow..but it’s cold!

It’s the dead of winter, and there is nothing more quintessentially a part of urban Canada’s landscape than the unrelenting black uniform of the downtown residents and workers. Sometimes it just eases in during November, but it was never more apparent to me than last year when my husband and I spent a wonderful month or so travelling in South America, returning in November. When we left Toronto it had been autumn and there were flutterings of winter clothing beginning to appear. But when we returned! I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Church Streets that morning looking at the sea of black winter gear that moved across the street en mass. Of course, I was a part of it. Black is my go-to winter colour. And in all of this darkness, I am delightedly still designing and making my cruise collection. Forgive me, but black is part of it this time around! A sleeveless tunic seemed like a good addition to a cruise collection. I did some sketching and it took me to…

asymmetric styling

Designs in which each side of an item of apparel is different in structure than the other side. In a symmetrical design, both sides are the same. Asymmetry may be seen in areas such as collars, necklines, closings or hemlines.[1]

 

Evidently one of the hottest trends last year (oh, am I already out of style? No matter!) was asymmetry. According to Keren Brown, writing last year in Medium, humans are drawn to asymmetry. I actually don’t think this is true, and she didn’t have any sources to back her up – I’ll get back to that. She also said, “…it’s edgy, bold, and says one thing loud and clear: ‘I don’t need to be like everyone else.’”[2] She also said that it is gender neutral and a sign of experience?  Really??

In a piece about asymmetry on the fashion blog Fashionipa, she suggests that humans have a strong preference for symmetry, which is what I remember from my psychology classes back in the day. However, she suggests rather more believable reasons for the popularity of asymmetrical fashions these days. [3]

Asymmetry is largely unexpected, you can use asymmetrical lines for covering parts of your anatomy you’d rather have covered (uneven hems, anyone?), these lines can be bold and dramatic, an asymmetric line elevates a basic style (think asymmetrical necklines on simple T-shirts), and these lines can be sexy (not so sure there is any evidence for this, but I like it).

Anyway, I could have created a basic tunic, but it is true that it would have been boring. Here’s where that sketching took me…

gg-cc019-05

So, I had a piece of crepe-like fabric in my selection of fabrics for this collection, and given its drape qualities, it lent itself to something with a bit of flow. Sometimes you need a bit of something flowy over a pair of skinny white jeans on a Caribbean cruise – think of the evening breeze on deck!

img_0055

Before I drafted the pattern, I took a close look at the pattern on the fabric. Did it suggest running horizontally or vertically? I draped it over Gloria Junior and contemplated it. In my view, the vertical looked peculiar. So, horizontal it would be. I love this designing thing!

I did begin with a draft pattern and then created a muslin. I find that a test garment is really the only way to ensure that I like the contour and most especially the length of these kinds of pieces. Every single one of us has a perfect tunic length, and it is not the same for all.

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I then had to decide how I’d finish the neckline. I cut a piece of bias self fabric to see if the pattern on it would look funky or not – I kind of liked it, so that became the neckline finish. Given the patterned fabric (and you know that I almost always dislike a pattern on me), I thought that the rest of the styling ought to be quiet.

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So, it’s ready to roll on to Puerto Rico and beyond next month – at which time there will be photos of the piece in action. Stay warm!

[1] https://wwd.com/fashion-dictionary/

[2] https://medium.com/@kerenbrown/why-asymmetry-in-fashion-will-change-the-way-you-perceive-beauty-92165eb6ff7f

[3] https://fashionipa.com/asymmetry/

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Cruise Collection Project: The perfect LBCD (little black cocktail dress)

RTW cruisewear
My past RTW cruise wear

Every project has to begin somewhere. When you think of vacationing in the Caribbean and what you’ll be wearing, you might very well begin with an image of a beach and a palm tree and a cool cocktail. You might be wearing a dreamy, floaty swim cover-up, or a fluttery tank top and shorts, or even a sun dress. Well, I’ll get there eventually, but let’s face it – my cruise collection really is for a cruise. And a luxury cruise at that. What this means is a major requirement for cocktail attire, so that’s where I’m starting. My perfect LBCD.

I spent a lot of time last year on my Little Black Dress project, during which I completed four test garments using three commercial patterns and ending up with my own design. But during that process I did find a silhouette that I thought I might translate into one of my own pieces.

For this collection, I’m inspired by Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean. Much of what that conjures up for me relates to daytime sand, sun, surf and shopping in Monte Carlo. But for evening, I need to look no further than their iconic cocktail style to be inspired to create a dress that will be the centerpiece of this evening cruise collection.

Jacki & Audrey

It will be a simple, boat-necked, princess-seamed black dress that fits to perfection and can be changed up by accessories and all manner of little jackets. That way, a cruiser like me need only take one or two cocktail dresses and never look the same twice.

IMG_1801

The fabric is black with textural striped detail and lovely drape which lends itself to the long, lean line of this princess-seamed dress. Although this fabric feels wonderful on its own (and is washable and packable to boot), I am lining it for a more sophisticated feel – and it finishes off the neckline and armholes beautifully.

 

It is so simple: boat-neck, sleeveless, lined, invisible back zipper, centre-back slit. Perfect fit. That’s it.

GG collection cc019-01 LBCD

 

 

Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!

GG collection cc019 a20180903

 

Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.

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[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Texture & colour & style lines, oh my! Fabrics & sketches for my cruise collection

There was a time in my creative life when I always, ALWAYS began any project with a design. In the beginning (all those years ago in home ec sewing classes) that always meant a commercial pattern. I’d go to the fabric store and sit for what seemed like hours pouring over those gargantuan catalogues. (I have not looked in a pattern book for about 20 years: if I want a commercial pattern, I’d rather let my fingers do the clicking online.) And it does have to be said that there was a lot to like back then.

I’d select my pattern number, search for it and my size in the big drawer, then, and only then, would I head toward the bolts of fabric to select something appropriate. (There was so much crimplene, woven cotton and corduroy!) I loved the process of finding just the right piece so that, even though I hadn’t actually designed the piece from scratch, there would be enough of me in it to call it an original: the colour, the drape, the way the contrasting colours were applied. But I never once, at least as far as I can remember, ever started just with a piece of fabric. Times have changed.

These days, I do occasionally find a piece of fabric that I know I just must do something with. But in all honesty, I still find that I do have a picture in my head of what it will be, even if that picture changes as I move through the project. I never, NEVER buy fabric without any idea of what I’ll do with it. I do not hoard or in any other way stash fabric. Oh, there goes my rant again.

So, back to my fabric selection for my cruise wear. Last time we talked, I was showing you my inspiration board. That inspiration board is leading me to the actual designs and to the fabric choices.

My “muses” for the collection

What comes to mind when you think about Jackie O. or Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean?

 

For me, they conjure up visions of airy cottons, pristine white T’s, striped French-sailor jerseys and big sunglasses. They make me think about sun, sand (okay, it’s hard to call it sand on the beaches of Cannes and Nice, more like pebbles), yachts, the ocean and cold glasses of Sancerre.

DSC02409
I took this photo of the beach in Nice on the Riviera a few years back when my son was working in Monaco. See what I mean by the “sand”?

This is my inspiration…my stepping off point…my stimulus. The rest of the elements, however, really happen organically. Colours, textures, line…all of these come together not in a linear way; rather they feed into one another.

A cruise collection colour scheme

my closet
A glimpse inside my closet. Black? Grey? Red? White? Oh yes.

If I am being quite honest about my sartorial choices in general, I have to tell you that I live in a limited colour palette. I love neutrals: grey, black, white, taupe. But I do have a bit of colour: red, fuchsia, burgundy, occasionally blue. And that’s about it. These are the colours that flatter me and the colours that I think look best in the kind of tailored style that has been my hallmark for decades. I also eschew prints for the most part. I find wild prints distract from the clean lines I prefer and to tell you the truth, I usually look like I’m wearing upholstery when I try on any kind of print. Oh, I do love to see prints on others – especially ones with a dark background, but they’re not for me. It’s who I am. That being said, perhaps there might be room for a bit of whimsy in my wardrobe? Who am I kidding?

A colour scheme for a cruise collection, though begs for a reflection of sun, sky and water. So, for this collection I’m drawn to blues, greys, white and a bit of black, of course. Because, who can go on a cruise without a little black dress?  Hmm?

Colours 1

 

So, I need a bit of texture, do I?

Any fashion designer will tell you that collections need texture. When I buy ready-to-wear, I don’t really think about texture in that way. How I think of it is how it feels on my skin. And I do think that this kind of feeling is very important. But what about how texture looks? How it enhances the style lines of a design making aspects of it stand out? I have had to think about texture in a different way when creating pieces rather than simply buying them.

I found these wonderful photos of sand textures and was immediately drawn to them…then to the Egyptian-motif print (Yikes a print!) with the texture.

 

I think I can embrace this black on white print because of its simplicity, although I see it more as a partner piece rather than a complete outfit on its own. And then what about that striped seersucker?

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It has texture, print (my kind of print, anyway) and to its credit, is a natural fabric – the best choice for a Caribbean cruise in my view.

Style lines that inspire

Shapes 4So what kind of lines will there be in this collection? Palm trees that sway in the gentle island breeze provide my mind’s eye with both a visual and a feeling. I’d like to capture that in both fabric and in design. But flowy dresses don’t suit me personally (I don’t think I’ve worn a full skirt since I was 11 years old), so even though it might be fun to design a flowy sundress, I’ll pass on that because I’d never wear it.  I’ll just have to find a way to capture this feeling with cleaner lines.

Basic design decisions

I’ve decided that the collection will have two foci: one of them will be a day dress of sorts that will be the centre-piece of the daytime wardrobe. A little black cocktail dress will anchor the evening grouping. So, I started a bit of sketching and contemplation of which fabrics go with which designs.

GG collection cc01920180903
First ideas about the LBD for evening.
GG-CC019-0320180925
First thoughts about the day dress at the centre of the day-time collection.

Prepping my fabric

Most of the fabrics I am choosing for this collection are easy care, easy packing. I prepped the materials as I always do by using my 4X4-inch template to cut swatches and throw them in the washing machine.

I then measure them against the template after coming out of the machine and then again measure and examine them after the dryer. That’s when I decide how to prep the whole fabric piece. The black fabric for the cocktail dress which will be the centre of the evening wardrobe is washable, but I’ll plan to line it so, in the end, it will not be a washable dress.

IMG_1801
The LBCD fabric is washable – and oh so yummy against the skin – but I’ll line it so the final product won’t be washable.

Now that my fabric is prepped and I’ve given some preliminary thought to the design of some pieces, it’s time to get to work tweaking drawings and making patterns.

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Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers, Stylish Books

Creating my cruise collection: My creative process for design inspiration

Picasso quoteWhen I was thirteen years old, I fancied myself something of an artist. It occurred to me that there was no reason why a young teen-aged girl could not be a best-selling writer, or a fashion designer (never mind that I went on to study science and communication in university; I did eventually write books and now…well, here I am!). I was a sewing fanatic and loved the process of putting a piece together. But the design elements! That’s what I really loved.

I used commercial patterns – it’s just what you did – but loved the process of thinking about how I could make them different, could make them mine, by fabric choice, detail tweaks and putting elements of an outfit together in a way that was different from that on the pattern envelope. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and I think that my creative process has been honed through the years, but there is still that young girl in me who wants to create. And my creation process always begins with something that seems awfully non-creative: an organizational system. But stay with me for a minute.

twylaA few years back (actually 15, but who’s counting?) Twyla Tharp wrote an extraordinary book called The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life. If you are unfamiliar with Twyla Tharp you’re likely not much of a dance fan. Since I’m the mother of a ballet dancer, she’s very familiar to me as one of the foremost choreographers in the world. The Broadway hit Moving Out based on Billy Joel’s music was her brainchild. In any event, she has a wonderful chapter in that book called “Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.” And she means that quite literally.

She says, “Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I write the project name on the box, and as the [project]progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making…that may have inspired me…”[1]

She uses a box. I use notebooks. Some of my notebooks are digital, but my favourites are pen and paper ones. I use them for my writing and I use them for my sewing and design projects. And I gather ideas from everywhere then write them down. And paste in pictures. And tape in fabric swatches. So, for this cruise collection that I introduced you to in my last post, I did all this then finally organized my thoughts around the areas of shapes, colours, textures, inspirational muses and vintage early 1970’s fashion because that’s where my head is these days.

First the muses. For this little collection, I’m inspired by the Mediterranean style of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. For their days in Nice, Cannes and Antibes, whether strolling the Promenade des Anglaises or sailing the Med on a yacht, they had a kind of je ne sai quois, and yet je sais. At least je sais a feeling and a style. That’s what is underpinning my design thoughts.

 

My next exercise was to find pictures whose shapes I am drawn to with the feeling of my muses in mind. I always surf over to Pinterest to suss out black and white photos that grab my attention. I use black and white so I won’t be distracted by the colours in them. That comes next. As you can see by the photos I was drawn to that there are recurring themes. I will obviously at least be using stripes! I’ll also have to balance angles with a more organic flow. Can I do that? We’ll see.

 

Then with all of this in mind, I think about the colours that capture the feeling. I’m thinking about the beach and the sea – of course! So, when I look for colour photos to inspire me, I’m drawn to blues, greys, tans. These will figure prominently in the fabric choices.

 

Then what about textures? Every collection needs a bit of texture. When I return to Pinterest to find textures that attract me, I’m drawn to sand patterns. It will be a terrific challenge to see if I can find fabrics that have textures reminiscent of sand patters, and that all fit together.

 

Finally, I go to my own captured images of vintage patterns and find so many that reliably inspire the same vibe I get from Audrey and Jackie on the Med. I’m not into retro fashion, so anything I design that is inspired by these will be a modern take. Anyway, it was Voltaire who said, “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” So it will be judicious.

 

Once I have all my inspiration material in notebooks, I extract the most important ones and they make it onto my inspiration board.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

Then comes the fabric search. I know that I want a cocktail dress at the centre of the evening wear, and a “day dress” for lack of a better term at the centre of the day-time dressing. I don’t like the notion of a sundress since that’s not really my style. So, we’ll see where that takes us.

After a venture down to Queen Street West here in Toronto, a browse through a fabric store in Halifax when we were in Nova Scotia this summer and a small fabric boutique in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the route home, I have accumulated a few pieces that are further inspiring me. So, now to begin a few sketches of what some of these pieces might look like!

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[1] Twyle Tharp. The creative habit: Learn it and use it for life. 2003. P. 80.

Posted in Little Black Dress, Style

My LBD* Project Continues: Considering option #3 (the last contender?)

And so I’m on to the final – or so I think at this point – contender to become my ultimate Little Black Dress* (LBD).

Contender #1, based on McCall’s pattern 6464 has lots of seam detail for fitting well and a plethora of sleeve options, although I’m focused on the ¾ length ones.

Contender #2, based on Butterick pattern 6410 also has lots of seaming detail (although less than the McCall’s) for fit – and it fits better than the McCall’s. This option has cuffed, short sleeves and a yoke which provides a bit of interest, although in unbleached cotton muslin, it resembles nothing less than a house dress. With these toiles, I have to squint at them to try to envision them in what might be the finished fabrication. Which brings me to the final (at least I think it’s the final) contender.

Then third dress might be closest to what we used to think was a LBD. It is a simple sleeveless sheath with princess seaming, a scoop neck and a front side slit. I was drawn to the Vogue 1435 pattern the minute I saw it.

Vogue 1435

Designed by long-time design duo Tom and Linda Platt, it is a bit of a riff on their ready-to-wear offerings.

I have to be honest and say that I really knew little about them before I began looking more closely at the sewing patterns they design for Vogue patterns. They are a married couple who met while attending design school at the Pratt Institute in New York and have been around for 20 or 30 years. What I like about their philosophy which is manifested in their designs is their mantra that last season’s collection should never be obsolete, rather that “great clothes last forever.” Here are some of their current offerings:

 

 

Well, I’m not sure about forever – it’s a very long time – but I agree that fast fashion is not the way for me to go, and probably never was.

Anyway, it wasn’t difficult to get this design to fit me, then as I spent some quality time staring at the muslin, the simple little dress seemed to grow on me. I even considered the matching jacket, but to tell you the truth, it’s a bit too voluminous. Anyway, back to the dress.

As I stood gazing at Gloria junior in all her muslin designer glory, my husband came up and examined it, as he likes to do when I’m working on a project.

“I like the last one better,” he said.

Naturally, I asked him why – and keep in mind this is a man with a great sense of style. He often shops with me and spends the time while I’m in the dressing room searching through the racks to find pieces he thinks I might like and might suit me. He is most often right on the money.

“I think that the perfect little black dress has sleeves. It makes it more elegant.”

Elegant? I want elegant. I want sophisticated. And I want timeless. I took another look at the dress and thought, you know he’s right.

merissa
You do have to admit that this is a more interesting dress than my current contenders. 

In that moment, I realized the reason I was contemplating the jacket was that I knew that more often than not, I would be looking for a shrug, a wrap or a jacket to complement this dress. So, I took another look at contender #2. Then my husband, who was still considering the designs said, “What about those dresses with those nice style lines Merissa wears on Bull? That would suit you.”

Merissa is a character on the television show Bull and every week when we watch it we marvel over her dresses – which, it has to be said, she wears well. I think she could wear a garbage bag and look professional and – elegant.

So, just when I thought I had a winner – contender #2, Butterick 6410 – I know in my heart I have to go back to the drawing board (literally) and design an original. I guess I better prep some more muslin fabric. I’m going to need it.

 

FYI: The Pratt Institute https://www.pratt.edu/

The Tom & Linda Platt photos are from their web site: www.tomandlindaplatt.com 

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

IMG_1470

Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Planning Another Little French Jacket (and planning to learn a few new couture techniques…)

I suppose that when I embarked on learning how to recreate a Little French Jacket, Chanel-style, just over a year ago, I thought that it might diminish my obsession with this iconic Chanel piece. Well, since then I have completed two of the little beauties, and am obsessed with making a third. But this time, I plan on learning some new things. Before I get to that, I want to revisit what I love about them so much in case I miss something new that needs to be added to my “need-to-learn” list.

Vintage inspiration:

 

As I begin this process, I return to a few of the resources I started with so long ago.

One of the first places I need to revisit is a video of the way these jackets are made…

“Secrets of the Little Black Jacket”

 

Okay, that’s fantastic information, but as I said I discovered that before my first one. Now, I’ve found an “Inside Chanel” newer one that give me at least two new insights…

 

 

I had never considered that making the waist slightly higher will give that closer fit, but I take note of that this time around. And the notion of a sleeve cigarette is new to me, but would solve the slight droop in the shoulder that I am prone to in unstructured pieces since I have sloped shoulders. So this video is a new resources. But I will use others.

Here is my list of resources and what I’ll take from each one:craftsy class

  1. The Craftsy course on “The Iconic Tweed Jacket.” This is where I actually started. The course is clear, easy to follow and the instructor is precise. This was my complete guide the first time I embarked on this journey and I’ll refer back to it. However, I have since learned that it is “Little French Jacket light” in a way. That being said, it was mandatory for me to do it this way first. And I think the product was pretty good. My first jacket, below, was from Vogue 7975, collarless, open front, of a wonderful bouclé tweed lined with silk charmeuse. It is less trimmed than I had intended (see my post regarding the machinations I went through to come to this conclusion), because it just didn’t look right to me. The truth is that I absolutely love this jacket and have worn it with a dress, jeans and everything in between. And it feels divine. vogue chanel patternMy second LFJ was made from the same pattern, although I drafted my own full-length sleeves. Made of a true bouclé fabric, it is lined with a printed lining that did not comply with my own rule: line only with silk. I fell in love with the pattern on the lining fabric so ignored the fact that it is a polyester blend. I do love the jacket, but because it is not pure silk inside, the feel of it on the body doesn’t even come close to my first one. It doesn’t breathe, so can only be worn in the winter. But I did layer the trim and liked the effect. Lesson here: I will use only silk – and my preference is silk charmeuse – for lining, regardless of how much I love a patterned non-silk.
  2. My second resource this time will be Claire Schaeffer’s book The Couture Cardigan Jacket with its included DVD. She presents a terrific amount of information on authentic Chanel jackets and her technique is a step beyond what was taught in the Craftsy course. I’ll use her approach to cutting and marking in particular. I will work only with seam lines, never seam allowance edges for a perfect fit, and I will thread-trace each and every fabric piece. Yikes, I think I’m tired already!IMG_1137
  3. The third resource I’m using is Susan Khalje’s Craftsy course on the Couture Dress. Yes, I’m working on the muslin of this dress project as we speak, but it is her approach especially to muslin production that I will use in this new LFJ project.
  4. My own past blog posts will also be a resource for me. When I started this blog, I did it as a kind of reference for myself. And if anyone else found it entertaining or useful along the way, well, that’s the advantage of a blog over a journal!
  5. And finally, the pattern I’ve selected this time is Claire Schaeffer’s Vogue 8804 which is actually designed for the Chanel-esque process: couture hand sewing, machine quilting etc. What’ interesting about this pattern is the instructions. They are exceptionally detailed and full of her actual tips and tricks.

Vogue 8804 pattern front

I want to learn a few new tricks – and have a jacket that is a bit different from the previous ones. Here are some of the new things I will incorporate:

  • Three-piece, rather than two-piece sleeves.
  • A button-front
  • Hand-worked buttonholes
  • Thread tracing the muslin
  • Thread tracing all fabric pieces.

 

Okay, here I go!